May It Please The Court: Weblog of legal news and observations, including a quote of the day and daily updates

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Quote of the Day - I don't care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right. - George M. Cohan
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How A Dissent Became The Majority Opinion

As a follow-up to a case MIPTC covered before, I have to smugly say, "I told you so."  Back in December of 2005, a nasty suit between a daughter and her stepmother surfaced over a $1.1 million recovery for the wrongful death of father/husband.

Not surprisingly, the two women both wanted all or as much as they could get of the $1.1 million, and sued each other to get it.  Daughter accused stepmother of being a prostitute, and stepmother claimed she and her husband had a loving relationship.

The trial court ruled for the daughter, finding essentially that the father/husband believed his new wife (stepmother) was a prostitute and he was about to leave her when he was killed.  Both the daughter and stepmother presented conflicting testimony about the "society, comfort and affection" between both women and the deceased father/husband.  In dividing up the spoils, the trial court gave 90% of the recovery to the daughter and 10% to the mother.

The Court of Appeal upheld the division, but Justice Sills was not happy.  His 37-page dissent took issue with the majority opinion.

On appeal, and as MIPTC predicted, the Supreme Court sided with Justice Sills, and reversed the two lower court opinions.  In fact, the Supreme Court cited Justice Sill's criticism of the rulings:  "There is something profoundly wrong in allocating 90 percent of a wrongful death award to an adult child and only 10 percent to the widow or widower." 

The Supreme Court didn't stop there, and said:  "the dissenting justice contended that evidence of the decedent's mere intention to divorce Wife was irrelevant because the decedent had taken no concrete steps to effectuate or even initiate such action."

In Justice Sill's colorful words, "No doubt there are some relationships where the spouses form an intention to divorce on a daily basis, and the intention evaporates just as quickly.  Mere intentions can be wonderfully evanescent," as quoted by the Supreme Court, who seemed unpersuasive when compared to the appellate opinions.

The moral of the story?  Be careful what you say, and who you say it to.  You never know how you say something will be viewed by someone else.

Or a court.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, July 06, 2007 at 18:30. Comments Closed (0) |

Avvo Founder Responds To Blogosphere Criticisms; Changes Site

So far, the legal community has railed, and railed hard against the new lawyer rating site, Avvo.  First I complained about the problems with the site here, and then Lawyer 2 Lawyer hosted a podcast about the problems with the site.  We had as guests the lawyer from Seattle who filed a class action suit against the company, and two voices of reason, Denise Howell and Carolyn Elefant

This blog was among the initial critics because my rating on the site showed I was dead.  Shortly after I registered my complaint, my profile was fixed, and my rating shot from a 5.4 to a 10.  I'd like to think that my credentials were the reason my rating recovered, but certainly my loud complaint may have played a part.  It may have also been that I simply rose from the dead; I discovered after my own investigation that others who complained did not see their ratings likewise change. 

Blog posted, podcast broadcasted and rating fixed, it was on to the next issue.  I didn't give Avvo much of a second thought beyond my impression that it was just another rating site and it would never change. 

At least that's what I thought until the site's founder, Mark Britton emailed and called me.  We spoke for nearly an hour about the stinging criticisms his site had received, and how he and his team responded.  Surprisingly, the company listened.

More important, the site changed.  After Mark pointed out the changes Avvo has instituted in our telephone conversation, I offered to give him equal time on this blog, and invited him to participate in next week's Lawyer 2 Lawyer show.  He accepted both invitations, and below is his "bullet point" summary of how he views the effects of social networking on his site.  You'll have to stay tuned for next week's Lawyer 2 Lawyer to hear how Avvo co-founders Mark Britton and Paul Bloom respond to this criticism.  If my telephone conversation with Mark is any indication, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Here's Mark Britton's summary (MIPTC has not received any compensation or expects to receive any from Avvo):

          "♦       Avvo's mission is to help consumers navigate the legal industry.  When it comes to choosing a lawyer, your average consumer has no idea where to start. 

           ♦        Lawyers can tell you how often friends and family call for advice in selecting a lawyer; however, to bring some statistical color to consumers' predicament, Avvo commissioned a survey through Ipsos (http://www.ipsos.com/), the large multinational research firm, which surfaced the following data:

                      °    Only 17% surveyed said that it is easy to research detailed information about attorneys

                      °    Only 17% surveyed said that they are very confident in their ability to choose the right attorney

                      °    Over the past two years, 25 million Americans were faced with a situation in which they considered hiring an attorney, but they didn't because they didn't know how to choose one.

            ♦        From the lawyer's standpoint, the fact that 25 million Americans are staying out of the market should be alarming enough.  It should be clear to all lawyers that we need to get consumers more information and build their confidence in the lawyer selection process.  But in a world where the Yellow Pages is still one of the top resources for attorney selection, there is clearly still work to do.

            ♦      That is where Avvo comes in.  For consumers, Avvo seeks to provide consumers FREE information and guidance to help them choose the right lawyer.  The information comes in the form of all the data we collect or others contribute to the site.  The guidance comes in the form of the Avvo Rating, client ratings and peer endorsements - all opinions, all imperfect, but all valuable to a consumer that is considering hiring a lawyer.

            ♦       For lawyers, we give them a FREE web presence that they can claim and update as often as they want.  Over time, we will have more and more types of information that an attorney can add to his/her profile.

                      °     This is a fairly significant benefit of Avvo considering the ABA study that says 60% of solos do not have a website.

                      °     Through our peer endorsement tools, we also give small firm lawyers the ability to show their network - their virtual law firm, if you will (i.e., the resources they can bring to bear on a prospective client's case).

            ♦        While all of this seems pretty simple, the key to building a website - of any business, for that matter - is continuing to refine it everyday.  That is why we released Avvo as beta - so that we could tap into the wisdom of the user community as we continued to develop this early version of our product.  We have been making tweaks to the site from day one.  And that was our offer to the user community - give us feedback and we will listen; because the site that has a tin ear to its user community should count its remaining life in months not years.

            ♦        In this regard, one part of the beta that generated a fair number of questions was the Avvo Rating in those cases where we had only an attorney's public licensing records.  We had to explain it too many times; which, consistent with our philosophy of listening to our user community, led us to tweaking the Avvo Rating.   So, beginning last week, we adjusted the Avvo Rating so that we apply a numerical Avvo Rating to a lawyer's profile only when, in addition to having the lawyer's licensing records:

                      °     we have collected information from the lawyer's website; or

                      °    the lawyer has claimed his or her Avvo profile.

            ♦         Where we have only a lawyer's licensing records, we will display an Avvo Rating for the lawyer of either "Attention" or "No Concern."

            ♦         We display the "Attention" rating if there is information in the licensing records that, in our opinion, a consumer should pay attention to, such as a disciplinary action against a lawyer without offsetting positive information.

            ♦        If an "Attention" rating is not warranted, then we display a "No Concern" rating, which essentially says, "no red flags, only positive information found."

            ♦        Two other changes that we are working on:

                      1.       email verification as an alternative to credit card verification to claim a profile.   We are just starting to test it.  In short, if we have a lawyer's email from the public records and they can receive an email we send to that address, then they can claim their profile without a credit card.

                      2.       allowing lawyers to merge profiles.  If a lawyer has more than one profile due to being licensed in more than one state, he or she will soon be able to merge those profiles together into one.

- Mark Britton"



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Thursday, July 05, 2007 at 14:35. Comments Closed (0) |

Happy Birthday, USA (and Grandpa Walker)!

It's the Fourth of July, and we're all celebrating today with the day off in the muddle (misspelling intentional) of the week, not quite sure whether to make it into a long weekend or not.  I'm just taking the day off; it's back to work tomorrow. 

In the meantime, there are plenty of things to think about today, and equally plenty to be careful about

Most of all, MIPTC wishes you a safe and pleasant Fourth of July.

Oh yes, and happy birthday to my Grandfather, who would have been 106 today.  My flags are up in his honor.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, July 04, 2007 at 16:08. Comments Closed (0) |

What's A Face On A Label Worth? You Might Be Surprised, But Then Again, Perhaps Not.

Life in LA is exciting.  You never know what's going to happen when you go to the grocery store.  You just might find your mug on the label of a product on the shelf, say Nestle's Taster's Choice instant coffee.

And if you did, you might be amused.  Or, you might not be, especially if you're a male model by the name of Russell Christoff and you didn't give Nestle permission to use your mug.  You might even say it's your visage; your essence.

You might even elect to sue Nestle for invasion of privacy, and even ask the jury for an award of the money Nestle made while your mug was plastered on the label.  And if you're the jury, then you might even award damages, say $330,000 for invasion of privacy, and say, $15 million in profits.

That's right.  $15 million.  That's a lot of instant coffee. 

The "what if" scenario actually happened in the case of Christoff v. Nestle.  Almost.  But, it's only half the story.

The rest of the story is in the appellate court opinion in the last link.  The court didn't think the $15 million was justified - surprise, surprise.  Instead, the court noted that before Mr. Christoff's visage was on the Taster's Choice label, another "handsome man" was on the label.  And after Nestle got caught using Christoff's visage without permission, there was another "handsome man" on the label.

In other words, the Court wasn't buying Christoff's argument that his visage had risen to "icon" status.  He was just another pretty face. 

Indeed, a mug.

And all in the flash of an appeal, the $15 million disappeared. 

On the other hand, $330,000 isn't too bad for mug shot.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Tuesday, July 03, 2007 at 14:55. Comments Closed (0) |

What Is The Price Of Getting Dressed In The Morning?

I put a tie on for work every day.  Frequently I wear cufflinks, too, but it's not required.  Sometimes wingtips that require tying, but other times just loafers.  You know, the ones with the little tassels, although my friend tells me they're out of style.  I carry a briefcase, a pen and a watch.  Oh yes, my cell phone/PDA and files I took home last night to work on.

If you were my client, would you want to pay me to get dressed?

That's what police in California and several other states are asking.  After a Supreme Court opinion two years ago that ruled employees are entitled to pay for the "don and doff" process of dealing with uniforms, police here claim they're entitled to pay for getting dressed with bulletproof vests, guns, pepper spray, tasers, and handcuffs.

It's kind of like the uniform I wear, just a little more intense.

Now don't get me wrong here, there are many bailiffs in Court and police around the state who put their lives on the line for you and me every day, and I'm grateful for it, as I suspect you are too (except, perhaps while you're being pulled over and given a speeding ticket, but that's somehow different).

The Supremes ruled that where uniforms are mandatory, employees should get paid for the time it takes to don and doff the clothes and accouterments, and walking to and from workstations.  Perhaps the police officers and others are entitled to get paid.  If so, you can expect your taxes to increase.

But I won't be charging you to button my shirt or drive to the office.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Monday, July 02, 2007 at 15:14. Comments Closed (0) |

Spector's Lead Lawyer Films New TV Show During Spector's Trial

MIPTC handles white-collar criminal cases, mostly for companies and executives charged with environmental crimes.  But if you hire me, I'm going to be there throughout the entire case, including the trial if it ever comes to that.  That's what you pay for, and that's what I do.

Apparently not all lawyers agree with that philosophy, including New York attorney Bruce Cutler, who's carpetbagging and representing Phil Spector in his ongoing criminal trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court.  Attorney Cutler is the lead trial attorney for Mr. Spector, who's charged with murder.

Cutler, according to this Associated Press article, is off filming a new TV show, "Jury Duty" during the trial.  It's not a violation of his ethical duties, and assuming he has his client's permission, he's otherwise complied with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Did I mention that the lead attorney representing the defendant, who is charged with murder, is not in the courtroom during the trial?   

Even so, according to Linda Deutsch's AP article, "Cutler vowed Monday to deliver the closing argument in the Spector trial even though he will not have been in court for much of the defense case.  He said he has been watching the trial on TV and reading transcripts of testimony."

Watching it on TV?  Reading transcripts?  What's wrong with being in the courtroom?

Oh, I forgot.  Mr. Cutler is the star of a new TV show.   He told the AP, "I decided to do this because it's motivational and educational and it's fun," he said. "It's good to have fun sometimes."

It's also good to be in court representing your client during a murder trial.  But that's just my opinion.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Sunday, July 01, 2007 at 15:44. Comments Closed (0) |

I'd Like A New Brain, Please

Well, maybe not, but perhaps some people do.  Certainly people, lots of people, wish for new hearts, eyes, lungs, kidneys, livers and life-giving organs they need to live.  MIPTC is an organ donor, so if something happens to me, I hope parts of me live on through others.

Here in the US, we have lists for those waiting for organ donors.  Elsewhere, you can buy body parts.  Many ask why that isn't the case here.

It's not only a question to ask about organs, but what about experimental drugs for people that are dying?  What if a drug, not yet approved by the USFDA, might save your life?

The Abigail Alliance, a father's tribute to his daughter's death from cancer despite her suit against the USFDA to gain access to an experimental, but not yet approved drug, asks these questions, and more.  The site is worth a visit and more worth your careful thought and deliberation.

Certainly worth talking to your representatives about.



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, June 30, 2007 at 16:24. Comments Closed (0) |

Insurer Ordered To Cover Copyright Infringement In Advertising

Despite many lawyers' efforts to convince insurance companies to cover copyright infringement claims, most insurance carriers routinely deny coverage.

It's a frustrating denial for those who pay insurance premiums.

Never fear, though.  An Ohio court has just come to your rescue.  In the case of AMCO Insurance Co., v. Lauren-Spencer, Inc., the court ruled that an insurer has a duty to defend its insured when advertising was involved in the lawsuit that alleged copyright infringement, and the insured's advertising contributed in part to the copyright infringement.

Whew!  That was a mouthful.

In any event, if your company's advertising causes an alleged copyright infringement, your insurance company should cover the claim. 



Printer friendly page Permalink Email to a friend Posted by J. Craig Williams on Friday, June 29, 2007 at 16:45. Comments Closed (0) |



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